- Gabriel Fauré: The Songs and Their Poets
Singers have long deserved a detailed guide dedicated to Gabriel Fauré's mélodies, that rich legacy of more than one hundred songs at the core of modern French vocal literature. Introductions to the Gallic genre of the mélodie by Pierre Bernac (The Interpretation of French Song [New York: W. W. Norton, 1978]), Thomas Grubb (Singing in French: A Manual of French Diction and French Vocal Repertoire [New York: Schirmer, 1979]), and the authors reviewed here (A French Song Companion [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002]), are all surveys that discuss Fauré's music, but do not focus solely on his oeuvre. Barbara Meister's Nineteenth-Century French Song: Fauré, Chausson, Duparc, and Debussy (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1980) presents problems of interpretation, analysis, and translation that must qualify any endorsement. However, Graham Johnson's Gabriel Fauré: The Songs and Their Poets, which addresses each of the composer's mélodies and reproduces their texts with sensitive translations by Richard Stokes, finally fills the need for a thorough handbook devoted to the lyric repertoire left by the composer whom Maurice Ravel and Nadia Boulanger called "maître."
Graham Johnson, collaborative pianist extraordinaire, is well qualified to offer a survey of Fauré's songs. His releases on Hyperion Records, including the unprecedented forty-CD set Franz Schubert: The Complete Songs (comprehensively reviewed by James Parsons, Susan Wollenberg, Susannah Clark, David Gramit, Susan Youens, Lorraine Byrne Bodley, and [End Page 123] Richard Kramer in Nineteenth-Century Music Review 5, no. 2 : 123–64), and certainly by Gabriel Fauré: The Complete Songs, Volumes 1–4 (reviewed by this writer in Nineteenth-Century Music Review 3, no. 2 : 190–96), are most impressive. Johnson's liner notes are also as articulate as his playing, providing context and insight particularly well suited to those new to Fauré's music.
Comparisons with fellow pianist Charles Rosen, widely known for The Classical Style (New York: W. W. Norton, 1971), Sonata Forms (New York: W. W. Norton, 1980), and The Romantic Generation (New York: W. W. Norton, 1995), may be tempting, but Johnson's aims in this book are not nearly as broad. In fact, Johnson's research base for Gabriel Fauré: The Songs and Their Poets seems surprisingly sparse, apparently neglecting much scholarly work published on Fauré's music in recent years, such as Jean-Michel Nectoux's essay "Fauré: Voice, Style and Vocality" in Regarding Fauré (ed. Tom Gordon [Amsterdam: Gordon and Breach, 1999], 369–402), which surely deserves reference in chapter 15, "Some Notes on the Performance of Fauré's Songs." And, oddly enough, there is no bibliography or "suggested further reading" list, just eight to forty-three footnotes per chapter, though certainly there is room for much more. Yet this does not seem to be history repeating itself (see Robert Orledge, Gabriel Fauré [London: Eulenburg, 1979] and its review by James C. Kidd in 19th Century Music 4, no. 3 [Spring 1981]: 276–80]), for Johnson frequently acknowledges the pioneering efforts of Nectoux, indeed so much so that at times he appears to sustain a lively conversation with the French musicologist most responsible for the current resurgence of interest in Fauré. Of course, this dialogue demonstrates the vital need for a translation of Nectoux's recently updated biography Gabriel Fauré: les voix du clair-obscur (Paris: Fayard, 2008), on behalf of readers who now rely on Nectoux's two-decades-old Gabriel Fauré: A Musical Life (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991; reviewed by this writer in Notes 49, no. 1 [September 1992]: 571–73), for the most essential and authoritative facts about the composer.
Examining each of Fauré's more than one hundred mélodies, composed during the six decades between 1861 and 1921, is no small undertaking. Following a foreword and acknowledgements is a helpful chronology called "Songs through a Life" that...